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The opening of Centenary Green next to the museum, by Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General of the National Trust took place on Wednesday 18th December.
It is a great tribute to the vision of Peter Clayton, Chairman of Octavia Hill’s Birthplace Museum Trust and the project management skills of David Crouch, the Project Manager. They were supported and aided by volunteers and donors large and small without whom the project would not have been achieved.
The site of the Green had been a derelict eyesore adjacent to the Birthplace House for more than 10 years and this was made worse by the fact that it was on the main route for visitors to the town from the main town centre car park in Somers Road. It had long been coveted by the Trustees but the substantial funds required to acquire the site which was designated for high density residential development were not available.
With the economic downturn of 2008 and the subsequent crash in land values, it became apparent in late 2010 that, subject to the raising of funds, the owner would be prepared to sell at a reasonable price. At this time thought was being given to the Centenary year of the death of Octavia Hill and to how this might be commemorated. From this it was soon apparent to Octavia Hill’s Birthplace Museum Trust and to the National Trust that a National Memorial to commemorate this Centenary could be created on this derelict site. After all was it not Octavia’s major belief that open spaces were a most important contributor to the wellbeing of the people? This led her to co-found the National Trust.
The National Trust offered to provide 50% of the purchase price of the site and Fenland District Council were approached to provide the balance. A design of the layout of the Green was obtained as a gift from Land Use Consultants, a renowned landscape architect in London and Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust undertook to cover the legal costs and to raise the funds to implement the design within a timescale of one year. It was agreed by all that the National Trust, using a 50% grant from Fenland District Council, should be the legal owner of the site thus conferring ‘inalienable rights’ on the property and a 99 year lease would be granted to Octavia Hill’s Birthplace Museum Trust Ltd to create and maintain Centenary Green. This arrangement having been set up, planning consent obtained and the site purchased, the lease was signed in summer 2012 and fund raising continued in earnest.
A major contribution of £35,500, about one third of the budget cost of the landscaping works, was sought and granted from WREN and tender documents for the main works were issued. Local company Foster Property Maintenance Ltd provided the lowest tender and in a subsequent generous gesture, offered a major reduction as a contribution to the project. Funds were also being received from organisations, companies and individuals (a listing of all the donors is attached below).
This enabled work to commence on 3rd December 2012, the Commemoration Day of the birth of Octavia Hill. Work continued throughout the winter with some delays due to ice and snow and in the early spring of 2013 the old ply hoardings were at long last removed and carted away to reveal the walls and paving of Centenary Green. The railings and gates were erected together with the planting and the laying of turf and the finishing touches such as the interpretation boards sponsored by The Wisbech Society, the 5 benches, the flagpole/maypole by Kier Eastern and the credits board were added soon afterwards so that in May 2013 the Green was informally opened.
During the summer the Green was in daily use from dawn to dusk by all ages. French student groups made it their headquarters, Wisbech St Mary School danced round the maypole at the end of their summer term, office workers ate their packed lunches, tables and chairs from the Birthplace House tearoom were used by visitors to Wisbech and many just snoozed in the sunshine on the benches or on the grass.
The Green has been respected by all the users and it is very pleasing to see this addition to Wisbech being so well received by so many people. We are sure Octavia Hill would be pleased with this open space created in her memory, to paraphrase her quotation “forever for all”.
THIS PROJECT WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE GENEROUS SUPPORT OF:The National Trust
Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust
Octavia Housing Ltd
The Wisbech Society & Preservation Trust
Fenland Women of Achievement
LUC Landscape Architects
Bankside Open Spaces Trust / Burghley Park Volunteers / Barcham Trees / Chartered Institute of Housing / Community Payback Wisbech / Ely University of the 3rd Age / FACET / Freedom Quilters / Kier Eastern Ltd / Maxey Grounds & Co / NT Inner City Project Youth Group / NTMEBC / Nene Investments Group / Nestle Purina Petcare / Octavia Hill Society / Princes Ltd / P’borough & Stamford NT Society / PB Engineering / Purple Pig Consultants / The Rose and Crown Hotel / The Rotary Club of Wisbech Tangent Engineering Ltd / Tinfish Creative Communications / Travis Perkins Ltd / Viridian Housing Ltd / West Norfolk NT Association / WisARD / Wisbech Lions Club / Wisbech Street Pride Volunteers / Wisbech Round Table / Wisbech in Bloom / Wisbech Town Council / Wisbech Grammar SchoolMrs M Ayres-Van de Geest / Mr & Mrs M Baldwin / Dr & Mrs M E Barker / Mr & Mrs R S G Barnwell / Mr & Mrs G R Badger / Mrs J K Bellamy / Mrs M Brown / Mr & Mrs M Bucknor / Mrs A Carlin / Mr R Carter / Mr & Mrs J Cash / Mrs M L M Cave / Mrs M Chapman / Mrs J Chisman / Mr R Clark / Mr & Mrs P J Clayton / Mrs R Clayton / Mrs B P Coady / Mr J M Cockcroft / Mr R D Costen / Mr M Cotterell / Mrs K Cook / Mr M Crawley / Mr & Mrs A Crawshaw / Mrs P L Crofts / Mr & Mrs D E Crouch / Mrs M Davies / Mrs D Eden / Mrs J A Enderby / Mr D Evans / Mrs S Farmer / Mr S Finlay / Mr D Foster / Mr R Green / Mrs W M Gregory / Mr & Mrs D E Henson / Mr & Mrs P C Holmes / Mr & Mrs R Hodgson / Mr A Hopkins / Mr & Mrs M B Jardine / Mr D Johnson / Ms J Jones / Mr S C Littlechild / Mrs M Milburn / Mrs M Werner / Mr J G OuvryvMr & Mrs D A Papworth / Mrs D ParkervMrs M Partridge / Mr & Mrs K Patel / Mr R Portham / Mr R Rawson / Mrs J Revens / Mrs S Rosen / Mr G Sharp / Mr & Mrs I Stocks / Miss C S Swaine / Mr & Mrs M S Theobald / Miss A Wallbridge / Mr W Weston / Mr G Wilkinson / Ms N Winkworth / Miss S Whitcher / Anonymous and Anonymous Soldier Donors